It's our fifth fest and our first time at Tides Theatre. The new space was beautiful to work in and Jennifer Welch at Tides was a dream to work wtih. The move to the bigger space proved to be the right one as we sold out once again, though there were a few no shows.
It all began for the playwrights, which this year included me, Friday night at 7pm. We lined up on stage, ready to pull the theme from a hat, as well as who are director and actors would be. We were excited, nervous, and ready!
Playwrights: Larry Rekow, Mary Blackford, Deborah Wade, Chas Belov, Me, Laylah Muran de Assereto (hidden), Barry Slater, and Bridgette Dutta Portman
This year, I had asked past playwrights to send in their suggestions for themes. I thought this would be a great way to keep everyone connected to 24-Hour fest. And boy did they send them in! In the hat was no less than 39 themes! Jeffrey Blaze, who wrote for 24-hour in the fall and who was acting this time around, was asked to pull the theme for us:
How did vanilla get such a bad rap?
I thought this was a particularly challenging theme, which it indeed turned out to be, but that's what this is about: challenging ourselves, pushing ourselves to create exciting theater on a deadline.
Since I'm producer for 24-the hour fest, being picked to write in addition to producing is always challenging. Up until the morning of fest, I'm able to keep these two jobs separate: producer duties until 10pm Friday night, then swich to writing mode until 6 am. But on Saturday, with a full day of rehearsals, 8 directors, 8 playwrights, 18 actors, and 8 volunteers, a new space to manage, and being up for a total of 43 straight hours, it can get exhausting.
As a playwright, I want to spend as much time with my director and actors during rehearsal as possible. As a producer, I'm pulled away, tapped on the shoulder, emailed, called, and texted. Fires, fires, everywhere.
For example, the theater space we rented (not Tides) for a couple early hours of rehearsals, was gated and padlocked. And the theater contact was unresponsive. Actors and directors lined the city streets (until I sent them across the way to a hotel bar lobby to wait it out). In the meantime, one of our directors emailed to say she had fallen ill and couldn't direct. All of this before 9am.
Turns out, I had keys or was supposed to have keys to the theater, but didn't bring them. Luckily, Jennifer Welch saved the day. Because she's awesome. And I called in a back up director who was at the theater by 10:30am. First two crisises dealt with, but it was early in a very long day.
How do we get through this? How do I get through this? Six words: Bridgette Dutta Portman and stage Bill Hyatt. They are the core of 24-hour fest and are rock solid in supporting the show and me.
Stage manager, Bill Hyatt Associate Producer Bridgette Dutta Portman w/playwright Chas Belov
We also have a great group volunteers for house, led by the outstanding Elizabeth Flanagan, and a terrific crew which nearly always contains the dutiful, talented, and easy-going, but determined Jan Carty Marsh. She knows her stuff and she will do what you need and she's polite and a joy. Joining her this year was Seema, who came and jumped right in comfortably.
Elizabeth Flanagan, House Manager Jan Carty Marsh and Seema Sairam
On the producing side, delegating is key. Never have I known this to be true than this year and never had I done it more than this year. It made a world of difference. Once you surround yourself with the best people, delegation isn't worrisome to a control-freak, but a relief.
Because of these incredibly capable and genereous folks, and my newly-found comfort in delegating, I did get to have quality time with my director, Scott Ragle, and the talented actors tasked to bring my hours-old play to life, Drew Reitz and Daniel Solomon.
And boy, did they have a job ahead of them.
Daniel Solomon, Scott Ragle, Drew Reitz
We gathered in an empty space (in this case, the hallway to the theater) and ran lines. Then I'd interjcet with, "I'd like to cut a line," or, "I have line changes." So rehearsing from 9am to 7pm to get off-book becomes even more challenging for them. Thank goodness they were open and willing to receive my need to refine the play.
I think they understood the massive struggle that happened with me overnight.
I'm not going to lie. This was the most difficult writing experience I've ever had. Ever.
I've done 24-hour fest since the beginning, writing for it three out of the five times. Never, NEVER, had I struggled they way I did this time. Never had I not had a play early enough in the evening that I knew it could be finished by 6am. The last time around, I struggled and thought I wrote drivel, but that was just normal, overnight emotional writer's block meltdown, but this THIS was different. This was no pages. this was anxiety, tears, chest pain, and getting sick.
This was going to be the first time a playwright failed to deliver.
At 2am, I sent an email to my director. I hadn't figured out the 'why' of my play, yet. Looking back on the email, I'm surprised it wasn't at all panicky. I was quite panicked. I hadn't appreciated his reply until Sunday when I reread it:
Me: I'm writing about 2 guys in a band. One of them wants to leave the band right when they're on the verge of signing a big contract, but he also maybe wants to keep his friendship with his bandmate and childhood friend. Problem is I don't know why they guy wants out, yet.
Scott:: he loves his cat "vanilla" too much to go on the road.
Maybe it's about cats.
It was not about cats.
The smartest thing I had done was rent a hotel room near the theater. The second smartest thing was inviting a friend and fellow fest playwright to stay with me. But for the grace of Laylah, I would not have made fest deadline.
5:00am and only three pages. Tears. Anxiety. Laylah, having just sent her play after reaching a breakthrough from her own struggles, asked to read what I had (knowing I'm usually too hard on myself). What she didn't do was hug me. What she did do was tell me this was like a marathon (knowing I used to run marathons) and we were in the last .2 miles of the race. What I had was good, I just needed to end it. "Give me another 1/2 to 1 page and send it." (of course I heard 1 1/2 pages and nearly threw up).
The marathon analogy was the right thing to do. I did it. It was going to be a short play, but it was a play.
I sent it off at 5:59am.
Then she hugged me.
So when I asked Drew and Daniel to accept revisions, they understood that I did what I could overnight and we had to expand and tighten in rehearsals. They were terrific about it.
The funny thing was, I barely had to touch the dang thing. My changes were minor. Once Scott, Drew, and Daniel read it, began blocking it, I realized I had the makings of a darn good play.
And, when I saw it during the performance and heard some people in the audience, when the final, cutting line was delivered, give out an audible, "oh." I knew I had succeeded.
Daniel Solomon and Drew Reitz taking a bow after performing "Pablum."
By the way, all photos were taken by the great Jim Norrena (and more can be found on PCSF's Facebook page. Where you can 'like' us, too!)